CARSON, Calif. – Canadian international Rob Friend is new to the LA Galaxy and MLS this season, and he’s as curious as anyone to see what’s in store when the Galaxy take on Liga MX side Club Tijuana in the first leg of the two-match CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday at StubHub Center (7 p.m., Fox Soccer Plus).
Friend, signed during the offseason from 2. Bundesliga side 1860 Munich, got right to the point when he was asked what he knew of this week’s opponent.
“Absolutely nothing,” he said with a straight face. “This is my first time even seeing a Mexican team.
“It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s new. Hopefully I get a chance.”
The Galaxy, in the knockout stage of the CCL for the third consecutive season and trying to rebound from a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in Saturday’s regular season opener, face a Mexican side that features the likes of former Galaxy forward Herculez Gomez and ex-Galaxy Academy member Paul Arriola. The Xolos enter Wednesday’s match with a 4-4-2 record in the Liga MX Clausura and two victories in their last four matches, but one of those victories was a 2-0 win over Chivas de Guadalajara last Friday.
Club Tijuana reached this knockout stage of the competition after winning its 2013 group that included Honduran side Victoria and El Salvador’s Luis Angel Firpo, but the road has not been kind to the visitors. Their last league victory away from Estadio Caliente was a 2-1 decision over Pumas UNAM on Jan. 20, 2013. Tijuana’s last road victory in CONCACAF was a 3-2 win at Victoria last Aug. 13.
Arriola, by the way, was among the goal scorers that day.
“They’re one of the better [Liga MX] teams,” Friend said. “We’ve been told they haven’t won an away game in 18, 19 games. At the end of the day, the past doesn’t matter. They’re going to come here and be fired up. They’re going to do everything to try and beat us.
“We have to make it tough for them and get the result we need.”
The attraction of Wednesday’s game – the series will be decided on aggregate goals and the rematch is set for Tuesday, March 18 in Tijuana – figures to be higher than usual, considering less than 150 miles separate the clubs.
“I think so,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “The geographical matchup makes it even more intriguing, if that’s the right word.”
Added Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza, “I’ve seen more articles about our game than any other quarterfinal game. I’m pretty sure it’s the most anticipated matchup, I guess. We’re right down the street. Herculez Gomez played here and was a fan favorite. Arriola was about to come here and he chose Tijuana.
“Obviously it’s going to make for a good atmosphere, the teams being so close. A Mexican team and an American team. We’re looking forward to it.”
If anything, it should help settle Friend’s curiosity.
“I don’t know a lot about the Mexican league. I know it’s a good league, one of the top leagues,” he said. “They’re going to give us a good run. But we definitely have a good enough team to get a result.”